Biomass powering ahead

There are some interesting facts that are worth knowing about the most popular forms of renewable heat generation. They don’t come as a surprise to us, but they might to some.

Given the proliferation of solar panels, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re the clear favourite, though maybe we just hear more about them because they cover big buildings or pieces of land and make an impressive photograph!

But these numbers are about how the Renewable Heat Incentive for business is being spent and by a tremendous margin companies and other organisations are opting for biomass boilers.

While there are many options for generating heat from renewables, none of them are as readily available to install and have up-and-running in a predictable timeframe, and with predictable costs, as biomass.

Perhaps it helps that a boiler is something we all understand; at its simplest, you add fuel, you get heat. That makes it a much easier sell to the board, the facilities manager or whoever is making this critical decision.

However, when you look closely at the expenditure versus forecasts for the Renewable Heat Incentive to-date, it’s very clear that large organisations are not necessarily the ones investing in biomass boilers. Take up of the incentive for small (less than 200kWh) installations are running at 173 per cent ahead of expectations. This is way ahead of other sizes of boiler or other types of renewable heating.

So it’s smaller organisations who are being the most fleet of foot with this opportunity. You can see why. For a larger project, be it replacing an ageing traditional boiler or powering new premises, they have to get it right, so you can’t blame those who have to make the decision for an abundance of caution.

What they will inevitably come to understand, I believe, is that when biomass is assessed against other renewable options, it comes with hugely less entries in the downside column. Other solutions can tend to have more variables, such as planning processes which can stir up community opposition, particularly in the case of AD plants. There is also usually less in the way of needing to find novel solutions for individual boiler installations.

In biomass we have a relatively simple process to burn recognisable fuels, using technology that doesn’t differ massively from what we’ve known for decades and which is supported by robust manufacturers with well-functioning supply chains and maintenance backup.

Looking at wood pellets; because they go through a manufacturing process, there is the kind of traceability in the supply chain that appeals to large organisations with a serious corporate social responsibility agenda – so the sustainability box is easily ticked.

Add to this the ability to demonstrate impressively quick payback, thanks to the RHI effectively covering the annual fuel costs for many users, and the reasons not to go down this route begin to vaporise! Even without the RHI, the payback on the investment would be impressive.

Right now, biomass makes sense in many scenarios and will probably do so increasingly in the domestic setting as well, particularly once the RHI extends its reach there.

What is really positive is that the benefits of renewable heating are becoming clear to a much wider audience and all the time the technology is proving itself and building a loyal following. Could this be the start of a quiet revolution in heating?

Domestic RHI launched…finally!

From today, homeowners relying on expensive oil and traditional central heating in their homes will be offered payments of thousands of pounds to switch to renewable energy alternatives.

The Domestic Renewable Heat incentive was finally launched today – part of a government incentive to dramatically reduce carbon emissions in the UK.  Around 18,000 households have already installed the technologies in recent years and will be eligible to start receiving the payments.

Here’s the official reaction from our managing director, Andy Boroughs.

“This is fantastic news for UK homeowners who have long struggled with rising traditional fuel bills but needed to see commitment from the Government to an incentive before taking the next step.

“For those domestic properties which are off gas-grid, with LPG and oil prices continuing to increase, the proposed tariff levels make a wood pellet boilers and other renewable heat systems an attractive choice for consumers as well as helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the UK.

“The non-domestic scheme has been incredibly popular, and now our domestic customers will also be able to access a quarterly payment, both for those installing renewable technologies in the coming months and those who have installed an eligible system since 2009.

“We anticipate that the amount of estimated incentive our customers who have installed a wood pellet boiler will receive over a one year period ranges from £1,874 for an 8KW boiler to £10,540 for our larger 45KW systems.

“However, we are keen to see that the domestic scheme does not experience the hold-ups which were significant in the early stages of the non-domestic RHI scheme.

“Domestic customers have been waiting a long time for this incentive scheme to be launched and we’re delighted to be able to help our customers access it following today’s announcement.”

Targets and numbers: 15, 4.2, 10.8 and 2020

The UK is legally committed to a target of meeting 15 per cent of the country’s energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. The Government says meeting this target will help achieve energy security and carbon reduction objectives.

But a report out today reveals the UK is currently the third lowest producer of renewable energy in Europe and we think that means the Government hasn’t a hope of meeting its own targets – unless it steps up a gear now.

The report, published by the European Commission’s statistical body, Eurostat, shows Britain makes just 4.2 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, with only Luxembourg and Malta lower down on the list.

Organic Energy has worked with one of the leading names in renewable energy for more than a decade. We are the UK’s sole distributor of the Austria-based OkoFEN range of wood pellet boilers – and Austria is already only two per cent away from its target of 34 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden have already achieved their 2020 targets, even though all three had higher targets than the UK’s 15 per cent. We need to take the lead from other EU countries, see where they are being successful, what incentives and support works for their renewable energy sectors, how they are educating their children about where their energy comes from and how best it can be sourced sustainably and securely for future.

It’s not all bad news; the UK has increased its contributions from 1.2 per cent to 4.2 per cent in the last eight years, but it has only six years left to source the remaining 10.8 per cent of its 2020 target figure.

A target is defined as an objective or result towards which efforts are directed. More needs to be done now, more effort, more immediate action, if we are ever to meet this target within the next decade, never mind the six years.

 

Let there be light! (But not too much of it…)

Christmas is the one time of year where people seem to get a bit of a lift, especially from the anticipation in the run-up. There’s a break from work on the horizon, maybe a bit of socialising and present giving. It’s all very jolly.

Christmas lights lying on the floorDecorating our homes, offices and town centres also buoys the spirits and adds to the general merriment.

However, and maybe it’s just our perception, there does seem to be a proliferation in the last year or two of extravagant lighting schemes appearing on more and more houses. Of course, these are lovely to look at. The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs of the children (and many adults) tell you that we love to see the effort that has been made to lift the appearance of what would otherwise just be the darkened street we see all year.

The unsettling thing, though, is that this all needs electricity. It’s true that a few LED lights don’t exactly demand the building of a new power station to keep them on, but when every other house is getting competitive with Blackpool Illuminations, there’s a cumulative demand that could really start to add up.

In times when energy prices are soaring, when we know the impacts we’re making on the planet and we are actively trying to find ways to cut power consumption, well, it’s just a bit unsettling. A wreath on the door just doesn’t keep up with the Jones’s, it’s true, but it also doesn’t need plugging in…

This isn’t a ‘bah, humbug’ sentiment. Christmas is great. The lighting is lovely to see. It would just be a shame if it were to get out of hand to the point where there was a backlash.

All that said, if you have 20 seconds, take a look at this video. It might be the most amazing Christmas display you’ll see this year – and in this case, it’s residents raising money for charity in a Staffordshire village (wouldn’t fancy some of those electricity bills though!).

Good customer service is the key to successful business

It says a lot about business practice, quality of goods and service in the UK when the Government publishes a draft Consumer Bill of Rights which will boost the economy by £4 billion. And under European regulations, an EU Consumer Rights Directive must be implemented in the UK by December 2013.

These measures are aimed at enhancing consumer rights, making them easier to understand. And why is it needed? Apparently because consumers spend more than 59 million hours a year dealing with goods and services problems.

It also aims to clarify some of the murky rules surrounding buying goods and services for consumers and give businesses clearer information on what is expected of them when problems do arise.

Energy companies are one of the worst offenders when it comes to customer complaints. Consumer champion magazine Which? said complaints data collected by regulator Ofgem on the ‘big six’ energy suppliers for the first quarter of 2013 shows that EDF received the most complaints, mainly surrounding customer service, value and complaint handling.

In my own industry, the Renewable Energy Association received more than 1,000 complaints in 2012. The REA is responsible for governing the conduct of solar PV panel salespeople. Many of these resulted from pressure from reps to sign up, or being unable to cancel a contract within a cooling off period.

These so-called cowboy solar salespeople have given the industry a bad name in the last couple of years; telling potential customers that solar panels on a north-facing roof would give the return on investment, that their roofs didn’t need strengthening to take panels which were too heavy and that the Feed-in-Tariffs were guaranteed to remain at the same rate for the next decade and beyond.

This isn’t just poor service, this is blatant mis-selling which in some cases damaged people’s homes, or left them thousands of pounds out of pocket.

My company, working with installer 7 Energy, supplied the largest solar PV system in Shropshire, a £1.2m installation at a poultry farm which has slashed energy bills for the customer.

But what we did in that case, as we and other good reputable companies do, is make sure we have the quality product, that we’ve done the right research, investigated the most appropriate design of installation and that we’ve got the best installers on the job.

That way, poor service isn’t even on the horizon. Given a tweak, that ethos goes for a myriad of other industries too.

The draft Bill is a good idea, even if its essentially legislation for protecting consumers after the horse has bolted. The Government says businesses will benefit from it too, with many already going well beyond the minimum obligations set out in the draft proposals.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing if we didn’t need to have it? If good practice and good customer service was embedded into the UK business culture from the production line and the receptionist to the managing director and the chief executive?

I have no doubt that one of the reasons my company has seen such significant growth, despite the efforts of the cowboys to frighten consumers away from renewable energy options, is that we strive to offer both the best products and the best service, delivered by the best people.

It’s not rocket science. It’s the key to successful business and happy customers.

 

The episode featuring Malcolm Tucker… and a carrot

Can you imagine The Thick of It-type conversations which took place at Westminster?

A carrot

A carrot, yesterday.

“Ed needs to come up with something special at Conference, otherwise we’re all going to sit on the wrong benches for another four years.”

(Cue lots of ums and ahs)

“I know, let’s completely abandon our pledge to decarbonise the economy and create a million green jobs. Let’s delay the much-needed investment we have called for in the renewable energy industry and instead do something completely radical.”

(Cue lots of ums and ahs)

“Let’s offer the electorate a chance to pay less money on their bills – you know, like freezing fuel duty or the extra pence on a bottle of Scotch at the budget every six months. But here comes the radical bit – let’s freeze it for two WHOLE years.”

(Cue round of applause and slapping of backs)

Of course, putting aside the sarcasm and the scepticism, Mr Miliband’s announcement that householders would see a freeze in their energy bills for the first two years of a Labour government is just one part of a bigger plan designed to ‘reset’ the energy market.

Breaking up the Big Six, and you all know what we think of them by now (see previous blog here), is not necessarily a bad move – separating the generating businesses from the supplying businesses actually makes sense. And there’s no doubt that watchdog OFGEM has had its day.

But it is a move which should have been taken long ago, and we are way past that now. That’s a sticking plaster, just like the energy bill freeze.

Labour may need to rethink ‘radical’ if they are to develop proposals to really fight the battle against rising energy bills which are tough on families and tough on businesses.

Imagine this.

“Ed needs to come up with something special at Conference, otherwise we’re all going to sit on the wrong benches for another four years.”

(Cue lots of ums and ahs)

“I know, let’s remind everyone that we have pledged to decarbonise the economy and create a million green jobs. Let’s bring forward the much-needed investment we have called for in the renewable energy industry and instead do something not in the slightest bit radical.”

(Cue lots of ums and ahs)

“Let’s not offer the electorate a carrot in exchange for their vote and instead engage with the public on how they use their energy, offer real alternatives such as community heating schemes and education on the renewable options available.

(Cue round of applause and slapping of backs and drawing of a potato on the white board)

“What’s that?”

“Not a carrot. We can project it behind Ed’s head at Conference.”

Well, you can take the Malcolm Tuckers of this world only so far…..

RHI for domestic installations to be introduced

Last week, the Government announced the tariffs for the new domestic Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme.

Here’s managing director Andy Boroughs’ official response to the announcement:

“This is great news, particularly for those householders with properties off the gas grid. We’re delighted to see the Government has committed to a domestic incentive, which in some cases will pay out more than the cost of the fuel.

This is especially welcome as the UK’s first convertible wood pellet boiler is launched next month, and is eligible for the incentive. With its space-saving design and entry-level cost, it will be an attractive option for domestic customers who will be able to apply for the RHI as well as the RHPP to help with the capital cost.

We’re also pleased that the RHI applies to legacy installations, we’re looking forward to assisting our customers claim the incentive which has been backdated to July 2009.”

And here’s some quick sums we’ve done quickly to illustrate how you could benefit…

An average domestic size wood pellet boiler would be 15kW with average fuel consumption of six tonnes, price of fuel say around £200 so £1,200. The kWh produced would be 28,800. RHI payment of £3,513.60 based on 12.2 pence. For 7 years £24,595.20. Plus an extra £200 per annum if you have a heat metre fitted.